Waste management in China

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Transport of recycled material on a cargo bike in Shanghai

The waste industry in China is a state task in the competence of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) and the Ministry of Housing and Urban drops (MOHURD). In addition to avoidance and recycling, waste management includes the disposal of waste. As the world's largest producer of waste and the world's largest garbage importer, this branch of industry has grown in importance in the People's Republic of China in the last few decades. Around 56% of the plastic waste exported worldwide ended up in China in 2012. That corresponded to 9 million tons of plastic waste. In 2017, China imposed an import ban on 24 types of waste; the import of plastic waste in the first half of 2018 fell by 56%.

Historical background

In the 1970s, the waste was recycled to a large extent, so that no landfills in the big cities were necessary. Almost all of the household waste was fed into the economic cycle and was therefore considered exemplary. 7 million biogas plants were in operation for faeces in 1981. However, hazardous waste was not treated and stored according to the technical standard of that time, so that soil and groundwater pollution was to be assumed. Industrial waste was simply dumped into rivers or fields. There were almost no sewage treatment plants. Production facilities, such as steel mills, were outdated. The whereabouts of non-recyclable waste, such as heavily contaminated waste oil, incorrect dye batches, etc., had hardly been clarified. Solid waste has only been recorded in cities since 1979 and at district level since 2000. With the enactment of the Environmental Protection Act in 1979 and the start of economic development, the issue of waste management received attention from the Chinese government. The first landfills were built in 1985. Standards for waste disposal technologies were enacted in 1988. Waste storage was legally regulated in 1996. From 2001 onwards, large, organized landfills were set up in the coastal region.


In 2014, the state already generated a volume of 179 million tons ( t ) of urban municipal waste, which increased to 203.6 million tons by 2016. Approx. 8 to 10% of the garbage is not recorded because this part is disposed of by garbage collectors. The volume of industrial solid waste was 3.09 billion t in 2016 and 53.5 million t of hazardous waste. According to forecasts, the annual municipal waste volumes in China will rise to over 480 million t by 2030. In 2000 it was still around 118 million t. In 2016, the province of Guangdong was the largest waste producer in China among all provinces with around 23 million t of waste . This increase in the amount of waste is due to increasing urbanization , rapid economic development and rubbish imports. These developments require the further development of waste disposal options and investments in waste management. The focus is on the massive expansion of waste incineration plants and the reduction of landfills or wild landfills .

organization structure

Chinese ministries responsible for the waste industry in China

Central government institutions, regional and local authorities and, depending on the type of waste, the relevant ministry are responsible for waste management. There are two competent ministries: the Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment takes over the general management and supervision of all types of waste. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development formulates the laws and regulations for the technical standards of waste disposal and landfilling. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is responsible for municipal waste, and the Soil Environmental Management department of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment is responsible for the import and export of waste. Industrial waste is regulated by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

Waste disposal

Increasing urbanization and high economic growth in the first two decades of the 21st century resulted in the amount of municipal waste in China growing by 9% annually. In some cities like Beijing , it was around 15% to 20% in 2015. In 2014, municipal waste in China already reached a volume of 179 million t. Municipal waste was mainly disposed of by landfill and incineration. In 2015, waste disposal through landfills was 63.7% and through incineration 34.3%.


According to estimates by the Shanghai Environmental Sanitation Engineering Design Institute, there are more than 10,000 technically substandard landfills in China. Beijing alone has around 1,000 of them. According to the Commission for the Control and Management of State Assets (SASAC) of the State Council of the PRC, China's largest landfill is located in the government-direct city of Chongqing with a total area of ​​almost 420 hectares . Due to a lack of space and illegal landfills, the cities of Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai have set themselves the goal of no longer disposing of waste in landfills from 2020.

The municipal waste in China has a high organic and water content. In northwest China , the moisture content of waste was around 46% in 2015, and around 58% in northern and southern China . In this way, a high proportion of moist biogenic waste fractions is produced during landfilling , which in turn produces climate-relevant landfill gas .

Illegal landfills

In 2015, two thirds of the small and medium-sized cities in China were virtually "besieged" by landfills, some of which were illegal dumps . A quarter of these cities do not have enough space for disposal. Beijing residents refer to the 400–500 illegal landfills on the outskirts as the “7th. Ringstrasse ".

Impact on the environment

Due to the moist biogenic waste fractions, the quality of the seepage water deteriorates . Disposal of landfill leachate was neglected in around 47% of the landfill dumps in China. 10% of the landfills have disposed of the seepage water in the sewer system and 20% of the landfills have used biochemical processes for disposal.

In China, landfilling releases greenhouse gases such as ammonia (NH 3 ), carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and methane (CH 4 ) due to a deficient gas recovery system . For environmental and financial reasons, the country is therefore trying to generate electricity using methane power plants. The Shuige landfill is one of the largest landfills in Nanjing ( Jiangsu Province). In cooperation with the French company Veolia Environnement SA, a methane power plant was built that can cover the electricity needs of 15,000 households. Other such plants are being built in Hangzhou , Guangzhou, Nanjing, Xi'an , Beijing, Changsha , Wuxi and in Jinan Province .

Electronic waste landfills

Electronic waste per capita worldwide and major known landfills

For the disposal of electronic waste, one of the largest electronic waste landfills in China has been set up in Guiyu in the province of Guangdong. This landfill is also known as the "electronic cemetery in the world" and is one of the most dangerous landfills in the world. This region already has an increased lead concentration in the blood of infants . More than 5,000 family businesses try to earn money there by sorting and recycling the waste. Non-recyclable electronic waste is disposed of in landfills along with toxic chemicals. This has an enormous environmental impact on the soil and water.


In 2016, there were 231 waste incineration plants in China. The capital Beijing alone owned 28 of them. The Chinese government is focusing on waste incineration plants for two main reasons. On the one hand, the space available for landfill is becoming increasingly scarce. The poor technical equipment of the landfill (lack of filter systems , inadequate groundwater protection and CO 2 - emissions ) is another reason for the promotion of waste incineration plants, the technology in the currently still relatively low standard are environmentally friendly than landfills. The government has set a goal of disposing of almost a third of its waste through incineration plants by 2030. In the coastal provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang , Fujian , Guangdong and Shandong as well as in the inland provinces of Hebei , Shanxi , Anhui , Hubei , Hunan and Sichuan , the massive construction of waste incineration plants is currently planned. Zhejiang Province alone plans to build 40 more waste incineration plants by the end of 2020. The 800 additional plants of this type required by 2020 are often to be built in the form of public-private partnerships (PPP), i.e. H. either as BOT (build, operate, transfer) or BOO (build, operate, own) projects. Due to the unfavorable waste properties, however, China has difficulties in achieving efficient firing of the waste incineration plants. The municipal waste, which has a high organic and water content, leads to a very low calorific value and an inefficient utilization of the waste incineration plants. As a result, the ecological and energetic potential of this process is not sufficiently exploited.

Garbage disposal company

In China there are ten large waste disposal companies that can collectively dispose of more than 200,000 tons of waste per day with their waste incineration plants. They make up 80.4% of the total market. The target of the 13th five-year plan is to achieve the incineration capacity of the waste incineration plants to 467,000 t per day in the next few years. The largest company is Hangzhou Jinjiang Group Co. Ltd., which can dispose of 43,688 tons of waste per day through its facilities. This corresponds to about 15.38% of the total waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration capacity in China. Other well-known companies in China's waste industry are China National Environmental Protection Corp., Shanghai Environment Group Co. Ltd., China Everbright International Co. Ltd. and Zhejiang Weiming Environmental Protection Co. Ltd.

China plans to build the world's largest waste incineration plant. For this purpose, the Chinese company Shenzhen Energy Environment Engineering Co. Ltd. signed a $ 26.7 million contract with Keppel Seghers Belgium NV. This waste incineration plant is to be built in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, and will be operational in 2018.


The incineration of municipal waste emits a high concentration of fly ash . The fly ash in China is classified as hazardous waste because it contains a high concentration of toxic heavy metals as well as organochlorine compounds , dioxins and furan . According to the prognosis, over 5 million tons of fly ash will be produced in this country in the next five years. The strong expansion of waste incineration plants in China therefore poses a dilemma. On the one hand it is endorsed by politics and supported by financial incentives from the government, on the other hand it is sometimes misunderstood, rejected and, in extreme cases, fought with resistance and protests by the public.

Protests have taken place in the provinces of Guangdong, Hubei, Hunan, Shandong, Hainan , Jiangxi and Zhejiang in recent years due to the construction of the world's largest incineration plant in Shenzhen and the increasing spread of waste incineration plants in China . The residents of these provinces fear that these waste incineration plants will emit a large amount of toxic pollutants .


For years it has been criticized that China has an underdeveloped recycling system, as in 2000, for example, only 20% of its waste was treated. China aims to achieve a recycling rate of 35% by 2020.

Kitchen waste

In China, kitchen waste is categorized as a separate type of waste. The annual volume is around 30 million t, with around 80% used as feed for pigs. The 13th five-year plan provides for kitchen waste treatment capacity of 34,400 t per day.

The "promotion of resource conservation and intensive use" focuses on the safe use and treatment of kitchen waste. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MOA), there will be stricter controls on kitchen waste disposal due to the risk of spreading the foot-and-mouth disease virus . Furthermore, the illegal recycling of cooking oil to make pouring oil should be prevented.

Gossen oil is commercially recycled and resold to street vendors and small unofficial stores that use this recycled Gossen oil as an edible oil. According to a 2013 Washington Post article, one-tenth of all cooking oil in China is based on pouring oil. In China, new approaches to recycling gutter oil are being tested. In March 2015, for example, the first flight took place in China with an aircraft powered in part by Gossen oil. Hainan Airlines flew a passenger plane from Shanghai to Beijing using a 50/50 mixture of bio-diesel from used cooking oil and traditional aviation fuel.

Kitchen waste is used as feed in the breeding of cockroaches. A cockroach farm in Jinan, Shandong Province, with around 300 million American cockroaches (Periplaneta americana) disposed of around 15 t of kitchen waste per day in 2017. Excess farmed cockroaches continue to be used as feed for chickens because of their high protein content. This disposal method represents an approximation of the circular economy. The construction of further cockroach farms is planned. Cockroaches were originally intended for the pharmaceutical industry, but now they are used for the waste industry. In 2013 there were around 100 large cockroach farms in China. The largest cockroach farm is located in Xichang, Sichuan Province, where six billion cockroaches are raised annually for the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs based on cockroaches are said to help against chronic stomach problems, among other things.

Chinese government action

13th five-year plan (2016 to 2020)

As part of the 13th five-year plan (2016 to 2020), the Chinese government intends to invest over 38 billion US dollars in waste management . Almost 25.7 billion US dollars are being invested in the environmentally friendly treatment of municipal waste. Around 3.9 billion US dollars is spent on garbage collection and transport, and 1.4 billion US dollars on the construction of recycling and sorting facilities . Another $ 2.8 billion will be used to treat kitchen waste.

According to this plan, the country will need 800 more waste incineration plants for its waste management by 2020. Another focus of China is the further development of the circular economy. In the 12th Five-Year Plan, the Chinese government emphasized the value of a circular economy for its waste industry. In the current five-year plan, the government is even betting on a “strong development of the circular economy”. In 2008, the government drafted the Circular Economy Promotion Law , which came into force in January 2009.

Another focus of the Chinese government is on waste sorting. At the beginning of the 13th Five-Year Plan, the Department of Housing and Urban Development published the Compulsory Waste Classification System . For this project, 43 cities were selected that should achieve effective waste separation . The aim is to achieve a separation rate of more than 90%. Further measures are also being taken in the collection and transport of rubbish. A system for garbage collection and transport is to be set up with a daily capacity of 440,000 t. With the introduction of improved containers and compressors, the refuse collection vehicles should be technically improved for environmental and cost reasons.

Rubbish import ban

China is the world's largest garbage importer. Around 56% of the plastic waste exported worldwide ended up there every year. For about 30 years, China has been importing garbage from all over the world, partly because of financial incentives and partly because of a lack of raw materials . It is usually cheaper and less expensive to recycle secondary raw materials than to produce them from scratch. In 2016 around 7.3 million tons of plastic waste were exported to China, 1.6 million tons of which came from Europe . The volume of 7.3 million t corresponded to a value of 3.7 billion US dollars. The world's largest garbage exporter is the United States with a total export volume of 5.6 billion US dollars in 2016. In addition, over 70% of the world's electronic waste went to China every year.

In July 2017, China informed the World Trade Organization (WTO) about an import ban on 24 types of waste. This includes unsorted plastic waste, waste paper with a maximum contamination limit of 0.5% as well as metal or electronic scrap and textiles. This garbage import ban from China is part of the National Sword campaign. As early as 2013, as part of the so-called green fence policy, stricter controls were carried out on imports of recyclable materials in order to improve the quality of imported waste. The Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment announced that China has decided to "completely cease imports of waste that can be replaced by domestic resources before the end of 2019". In March of this year, the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment developed an “Action Plan 2018-2020” to monitor garbage imports and another action plan to control environmental pollution . In addition to the import ban on the 24 types of waste, the Chinese government has imposed new restrictions. On April 19, 2018, the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment announced that China would ban the import of 16 types of solid waste from December 2018 and the import of another 16 types of solid waste from December 2019. In total, the import of 32 types of secondary raw materials will be prohibited from December 2019. Prohibited waste materials are mainly plastic waste, i.e. H. Production waste made of polyethylene , polystyrene , PVC , PET and other plastics that will no longer be allowed to be exported to China from the end of this year. In addition to plastic waste, the import of compacted (compressed) end-of-life vehicles and appliances, small electric motors, iron ore slag and certain ships to be scrapped are also banned. From the end of 2019, stainless steel scrap and wood chips as well as waste from various forms of non-ferrous metal will be banned.

As a result of the measures taken by the Chinese government, the amount of garbage imported in the first half of 2018 was reduced by 56% compared to the previous year. The Chinese government is trying to reduce imports of garbage imports through increased controls on import licenses and measures in the event of violations of environmental protection laws by waste processing companies. In addition, rubbish smuggling has been reduced. In May 2018, 137,000 t of illegal rubbish imports were confiscated.

According to the US recycling association ISRI (Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries), these import bans will have a significant impact on global supply chains. Not only the United States is affected by the Chinese import ban, but also Canada , United Kingdom , Germany , and the Netherlands , among others . An interim solution to compensate for this import ban is to export the waste to other countries in Southeast and South Asia and the Middle East . B. to Vietnam , Malaysia , Indonesia or India . However, not a single one of these markets is comparable to China in terms of the size of its garbage processing capacity.

further reading

  • J. Hu, J. Zhang: 废品 生活: 垃圾 场 的 经济 、 社群 与 空间. Chinese University Press, Hong Kong 2016, ISBN 978-962-996-649-2 .
  • A. Minter: Junkyard Planet - Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade. Bloomsbury, New York 2013, ISBN 978-1-60819-791-0 .
  • A. Pariatamby, M. Tanaka: Municipal Solid Waste Management in Asia and the Pacific Islands. Springer Singapore, Singapore 2014, ISBN 978-981-4451-72-7 .
  • E. Sternfeld: Routledge Handbook of Environmental Policy in China. Routledge, London 2017, ISBN 978-1-317-56801-8 .
  • L. Wang, X. Ren: Development of solid waste management in China. LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, Saarbrücken 2015, ISBN 978-3-659-78395-1 .
  • M. Yamamoto, E. Hosoda: The Economics of Waste Management in East Asia. Routledge, London 2016, ISBN 978-1-317-61658-0 .
  • X. Zou: Municipal Solid Waste Management in China. LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, Saarbrücken 2016, ISBN 978-3-330-01155-7 .

Web links

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